Boris Johnson said it would be ‘ludicrous’ for him to be prime minister, claims Dominic Cummings

Former adviser admits he believed Johnson to be ‘in any objective sense, unfit to be PM’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 05 July 2021 15:57
The biggest claims from Dominic Cummings' Covid testimony

Boris Johnson admitted that he was a “ludicrous” choice for prime minister, his former top aide Dominic Cummings has said.

Mr Cummings said the admission came on 24 June 2016, the day after the EU referendum which delivered victory for Leave and just after David Cameron announced he would quit as PM.

In a scathing dissection of the prime minister’s character, Cummings – the backroom supremo of the Vote Leave campaign – said that he and his team were already aware at that point that Johnson was “in any objective sense, unfit to be PM”.

But he said he agreed three years later to join Johnson in Downing Street because he believed that, ”features of Boris that are in principle very bad in a PM can be turned to advantage”.

In the latest of a series of highly critical commentaries about the PM on his Substack blog, Mr Cummings said Johnson’s character was divided into Normal Boris – or Boris-N – and Self-Aware Boris – or Boris-SA – which came to the fore only when his political future was threatened.

“Boris-SA knows that Boris-N cannot manage, knows Boris-N cannot focus, knows Boris-N has no interest in policy and knows he needs saving from himself,” he wrote. “Boris-N wants to remain ‘viable in the system’, Boris-SA will smash the system to survive.”

He said that Mr Johnson “lies — so blatantly, so naturally, so regularly — that there is no real distinction possible with him, as there is with normal people, between truth and lies”.

The PM “trusts nobody including his own family”, will “sacrifice anybody for his career” and is “totally untrusted by anybody in No 10”, said the former senior adviser.

And he described the PM’s wife Carrie as a “wildcard”, who had initially backed Cummings and his team, but in 2020 “like some demonic Russian virus” infecting a computer system had started creating “a new and very unwelcome version” of Johnson’s personality – Boris-Carrie mode – which he said he will discuss in a future blog.

Answering questions from readers, he said it was “obvious” that Tony Blair would have done “a much better job” as prime minister during the Covid pandemic than Johnson and the PM was “obviously” wrong to plan the removal of most social distancing rules on 19 July against the advice of many scientists”.

Mr Cummings recalled a moment on the day after the referendum, when Mr Johnson pulled him aside for a private word at Vote Leave HQ.

“Boris told me with a laugh, ‘Obviously it’s ludicrous me being PM — but no more ludicrous than Dave (Cameron) or George (Osborne), don’t you think?’,” wrote Mr Cummings. “I agreed.”

Mr Johnson’s period as foreign secretary from 2016-18 provided “a severe warning” of the dangers of allowing him into Downing Street, said Mr Cummings.

“Boris won’t read the papers,” he wrote. “He cannot chair meetings to save his life. He has no idea how Whitehall works and has no interest in it. He wants to believe everyone loves him and is blind to official manoeuvring even when it is brazen…

“His whole being wants to throw himself into the arms of polite young Balliol [the University of Oxford college] men and enjoy the trappings of power while they do the work and pull the strings.

“He believes in the system — after all it’s made him famous and is making him PM!”

Cummings said that within days of winning the Tory leadership in July 2019, Mr Johnson pleaded with him to come into Downing Street with his team of Vote Leave veterans.

He said that Mr Johnson told him he feared being the shortest-serving PM ever, and that his downfall would usher in a Jeremy Corbyn government, a second EU referendum and “maybe the end of the Tory Party”.

He said Johnson admitted he did not know how to deal with negotiations with the EU or how to get any deal through parliament and needed Cummings because “the Vote Leave team knows how to win under extreme pressure and I’m under extreme pressure”. Cummings said that he saw “great attractions” in standing to one side and allowing the Conservative party to “implode”.

He thought at the time that “instead of saving Westminster and the Conservative Party from themselves, this is maybe the best chance we’ll get in decades to destroy the Conservative Party and create something much better”, he wrote.

But Mr Cummings said that his team decided to throw their weight behind Johnson, believing that “if we win the election then he tries to move us out of No 10, we can try to move him out of No 10 – two can play at that game – and we can use reshuffles to move some much more able people into position”.

Explaining his decision to join Johnson’s administration in Downing Street, he said: “Some pundits have suggested I’m an idiot because I didn’t understand Boris’s character until late 2020.

“I and my team worked with Boris in the referendum. Some of us worked with him, officially or unofficially, between the referendum and summer 2019. We knew his skills and his weaknesses. We knew he was, in any objective sense, unfit to be PM. We also knew that he knew too, since he’d told us.

“But the question facing us in summer 2019 was not: ‘is Boris fit to be PM?’.

“It was: ‘Should we a) try to help him solve the constitutional crisis, if necessary by winning an election, or b) leave the whole thing alone, knowing that without us the Conservative Party, being what it is, will probably fail to solve the problem and cause a second referendum, Corbyn as PM and maybe its own destruction?’”

Mr Cummings said he believed the “problems of Boris as PM” could be “partly mitigated by himself and his team, who understood politics and the functioning of Whitehall better than either Mr Johnson or the Tory party.

His “ignorance of Whitehall, his uninterest in policy and his desire to enjoy himself rather than work hard” combined with the constitutional crisis created by the Brexit result created “a very weird opportunity to force through certain important things that the system left to itself won’t do,” wrote Cummings.

“Precisely because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, we may be able to get him to agree things ‘the system’ will think are ‘extreme’ but we think are necessary — like reorienting the whole state machine away from Brussels towards science and technology.”

Mr Cummings rejected depictions of Mr Johnson as either a “clown or a “campaigning genius”.

“Boris is complex portrayed as simple,” he wrote. “Behind each mask lies another mask – but there’s no masterplan behind all the masks, just the age old ‘will to power’.”

He said Johnson was “happy to hide behind the mask of a clown” and was not bothered by the ridicule he attracts.

“He is both much more useless than the media portray and much more capable of self-awareness and ruthlessness than they ever portray, or his enemies usually discern,” wrote Cummings.

“He routinely says and does things so foolish that people are open-mouthed, and is so hopeless at getting rid of duffers, so determined to avoid difficult situations, that people are usually shocked when he suddenly moves with ruthless speed to remove them.

“He was desperate to be prime minister but has almost no interest in the job.”

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